This is the latest on my ongoing Freedom of Information Act requests to get the U.S. government records on the USAID programs I supervised for the International Republican Institute as East Africa Director for the 2007 Kenya election.
In mid-2009 I assisted my former colleagues from the University of California, San Diego on the 2007 Kenya exit poll in submitting a FOIA request to USAID for a broad set of basic records under the USAID/IRI polling program, including comparative materials from the prior 2002 and 2005 USAID/IRI exit polls. Unfortunately, it took USAID roughly two years to produce anything, and when they did it was rather aggressively nonresponsive. They simply sent a copy of the Cooperative Agreement under which the program operated from 2005-2007 (the final agreement started with the exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum and went though pre-election polls in the fall of 2007, with an amendment to add the 2007 exit poll at the end) with none of the reports, results, correspondence or anything else at all. My academic colleagues had expected to get the historical documentation from IRI in consideration of the supplemental funding they povided to IRI for the exit poll, but were left to FOIA when IRI didn’t come through.
Upon returning from the 2013 Kenya election when there was another round of questions on the USAID/NDI/ELOG sample PVT and the communications around it, I submitted a new USAID FOIA of my own to try again for the 2007 exit poll records. This time I have been fortunate enough to have what appears to be active and engaged efforts by the current USAID FOIA office to seek records and keep me up to date on the request. Unfortunately it has still been another 13 months now of waiting.
A key document that should answer a number of questions is the IRI final report on the 2005-2007 polling program, which was originally due during my tenure at IRI in early 2008. At the time I completed my IRI service to return to my permanent job in the U.S. IRI’s second extension to file the report was winding down. At that point, IRI was faced with a quandary as it had posted on its website on February 7, 2008 a statement that it was not releasing the exit poll results because it had determined that they were “invalid” the evening following a demand by Senator Russ Feingold in a hearing of his Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and the Africa Assistant Administrator for USAID report back to him on why the exit poll had not been released. Previously, however, in January IRI had filed its quarterly performance report with USAID reporting that the poll had been successfully conducted.
According to the requirements of the Cooperative Agreement between USAID and IRI, three copies of the final report were to be submitted by IRI, one to the agreement officer in Washington, one to the Democracy and Governance lead in Kenya, and another to the USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) in Washington. I was able to learn in a conference call with the FOIA office last week that they have been unable to find such a copy on file in Development Experience Clearinghouse. Likewise, the other copy in Washington has not yet turned up, so it is being sought through the mission in Kenya.
In the meantime, on the State Department side I have written, again, to the Appeals Officer to request a decision or the status of my April 2013 appeal of the withholding of a document about the USAID exit poll from my 2009 FOIA request on the asserted basis of a “deliberative process” exemption from the FOIA.The documents produced to me under the 2009 request show the Africa Bureau at State mischaracterizing the exit poll in response to media inquiries as a capacity building “exercise” that was never intended to be released. To the contrary, both the USAID contractual documents themselves and the Ambassador’s own released State Department cables from before the election describe the exit poll as a key part of efforts to prevent election fraud and support a democratic process, along with the IRI election observation mission. My appeal argues in a nutshell that there is not a legitimately protected agency deliberative process for the State Department to decide whether or not to be truthful in response to after-the-fact press inquiries about a USAID program.